Inspired by her spirited nature and long legs, he called her Woodsie, for wood nymph. Few ever heard that pet name, though, because Beverly Aadland’s two-year love affair with Errol Flynn didn’t come to light until his death from a heart attack in 1959, at the age of 50. It was Beverly who was with him when he died; she was then barely 17. Born in Hollywood to Herbert and Florence Aadland, a bartender and a waitress, Aadland had been enrolled in dance and acting classes at the age of 2. By her early teens, she was a show business veteran who lied about her age to perform in Las Vegas on her summer vacations.
By any standard, Aadland was an early bloomer, and she says, when Flynn met her on a movie set, he thought she was 18. For Beverly, the headlines didn’t stop with her lover’s death. Shortly afterward, she was raped by an acquaintance of her mother’s during a night of violence that ended with the man fatally wounded by his own gun. For a year she was placed with a foster family, and a series of bad marriages followed. In 1961 her mother co-wrote the story of her daughter’s lurid affair, The Big Love, without Beverly’s approval. Embittered by that betrayal, Beverly has now chosen to tell her story for the first time; she has also cooperated with a planned one-woman play based on her mother’s book, starring Marsha Mason.
Today Beverly, 46, lives in a small desert town in Southern California with her husband, a construction supervisor whom she married in 1971, and their 8-year-old daughter. Although a will in which Errol had named her an heir was declared invalid, she still treasures his letters as well as a stunning amethyst necklace, ruby-and-diamond earrings and a thick gold charm bracelet.
It was 1957, and I was 15 and working on the Warner Bros, lot as a dancer in a scene with Gene Kelly in Marjorie Morningstar when Orry-Kelly, the designer, came fluttering over from the next set saying that Errol Flynn wanted to meet me. I wasn’t very enthusiastic—I had met a lot of movie stars. I was taught to be very polite, so I went.
I met him in his dressing room, where his secretary was making coffee. No, I hadn’t heard about the statutory rape charges, about the teenage girls he had supposedly seduced. He asked me if I wanted to read for a play. I said I had to ask my mother, he said to use the phone.
Errol said the reading would be at Huntington Hartford’s Hollywood estate, where he was staying. He said his secretary, his stuntman and his agent would be present, and also that he would like to take me to dinner. Mother finally said okay, that it would be a great opportunity.
I remember driving up to the estate; it was gorgeous. I read for the part, but the whole thing was a ruse—somebody else already had the part. Then we went to dinner at the Imperial Gardens—no shoes and hot saki. I didn’t drink, but I had a little hot saki that night Back at the house, the others just disappeared. The scene was lovely—a great fire was roaring in the fireplace. There were thick bearskin rugs on the marble floors. Outside the lodge, deer would come to the great front window. The lighting was soft. Errol invited me down on the rug.
I knew next to nothing about sex. With Errol I didn’t know what was happening at first—I thought he was just trying to kiss me. He knew so many women who would say yes that when I was saying no, no, no, he thought I meant yes. I know that because I asked him about it later. I was scared. He was just too strong for me. I cried. At one point he tore my dress. Then he carried me off to another room, and I was still carrying on. What was going through my head was, What was I going to tell my mother?
When it was all over, and he realized I was a virgin, there was a complete change. He started to cry. He was very unglued, extremely apologetic, but all I wanted was to get out of there. He had his secretary drive me home, and I cried all the way. Father was out of town, so I only had Mother to contend with. Did she suspect? No. You’ve got to remember I was taking drama lessons at 2. If I couldn’t con my own mother, I wasn’t much of an actress. I felt used and abused but I also felt, hey, I’m grown-up now.
Right away, Errol started calling and apologizing. Later, after I heard the story, I asked what happened with those two teenagers who accused him. He said he was innocent, that he never slept with one of them and that he didn’t know the other’s true age. I doubt that he attacked them.
He was persistent and convinced me that he was sorry about what happened. So a couple of days later I agreed to go out with him. We made love again. In fact, we couldn’t keep our hands off one another. After that he said he loved me and asked me if I loved him. I said I didn’t know—though I was already in love with him. He was nuts about me. I think I started out being a plaything, but in 24 hours I no longer was. He began to take me everywhere. It really was that quick. If he were alive today, I would still be with him.
Errol had to go to Africa to make a movie, and he wanted Mother and me to meet him in New York. I knew the time had come to tell Mother. She asked, “How long has this been going on?” and was damn near hysterical. I got Errol on the phone, and he told her, “Mrs. Aadland, I have to tell you, I’m in love with your daughter and she’s in love with me.” Mom finally heaved a sigh of relief. She realized I was happy and that we were serious about each other. She also knew that I’d be with him whether or not she approved, that I’d run away if I had to.
In Africa, I got dysentery the second week, and Errol kept running back and forth from location. He was making The Roots of Heaven with John Huston. When I was okay, he gave me a baby mongoose. I felt like Tarzan’s mate with my white-blond hair and white safari outfit. Once we had a lovely excursion on a river where he photographed me in my bikini while a thousand butterflies rose in the air. Errol had already asked me to marry him by this time.
A few months later, we went to his ranch in Jamaica, and Errol tossed a big party for my 16th birthday. He gave me a 75-HP engine for my skiff, a dozen chicks, a dozen ducks and a dozen goslings, letting them all loose in the Titchfield Hotel, where we stayed. He owned a little island off Jamaica and wanted to build a house there. One day he said, “Woodsie, why don’t you start sketching your house?” So I did, and the local men started building it. But every few months or so his wife, Pat Wymore, would start acting up, and Errol would say I had better go back to Mother until it blew over. Errol and Pat were separated when we met, and they had agreed to a divorce if either one wanted to marry. Then all of a sudden I show up, and Pat changes her mind.
Meanwhile I learned that Mom and Dad were getting a divorce and that Dad tried to blackmail Mother into giving up the house and alimony, threatening to go to the police and tell them about my association with Errol. It was a couple of years before I forgave him.
Errol had agreed to do Cuban Rebel Girls in Cuba, and news-tycoon William Randolph Hearst had offered to pay for the trip if Errol would write some articles about the revolution going on there. Errol had me write a will for him before he went into the hills to meet Castro, and he gave it to an attorney to type up when we got back to New York. The will gave me a third of the estate in Jamaica, the bulk of the rest to his children Rory and Deirdre. On New Year’s Eve in Havana, waiting for Errol to return, I went to a casino. I think the Mafia owned it; George Raft fronted for it. I was playing blackjack with George when the door flew open and we were invaded by Castro’s forces. Raft wanted me to stay there, but I sneaked out the kitchen door and crept back to my hotel, guns firing all around me.
Eight months later, in Vancouver on business, Errol had a recurrence of malaria, and an old back injury started acting up. We decided to fly to San Francisco. The couple we had gone up to see suggested we stop and see their doctor on the way to the airport—that maybe a shot of Demerol would make the trip more comfortable. At the doctor’s, Errol lay down on the floor as he often did for his back. I kissed him, covered him with his blazer and told him I’d be back in 10 minutes. When I came back he was very, very still, and when I put my face near his I could feel only a shallow breath. I screamed and the others came rushing in. I started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Everything was a jumble. At the hospital, someone said he was dead. I couldn’t believe it.
The next few months were a nightmare. In L.A., reporters hounded me. You must remember that except for friends, no one knew about us until then. When plans were announced for the funeral, my heart sank. Jack Warner was to give the eulogy, Errol was to be buried at Forest Lawn, and the casket was to be covered with yellow roses. Errol hated Hollywood, he hated Jack Warner, and he hated yellow roses. He wanted to be married in Jamaica, and he wanted to be buried there.
Things continued to go from bad to worse for a while after Errol’s death, but I’m still glad I had the experience. I was 15 chronologically, but I was so much older. I believe Errol was trying to do the best for me. I don’t blame him for anything.